The Open Session is IFSEL’s cornerstone practice for effective Middle and High School SEL classes and Advisory programs. In an Open Session, participants have the opportunity to engage in powerful, “collective wondering” and share responses such as clarification and encouragement in a format that imparts SEL skills based on empathy and listening. Participant-generated, real-life issues, daily challenges, and joys provide the content that drives the meta-processing for deep learning and community building. The Open Session is offered to students, faculty, and parents in hundreds of schools worldwide. During the period of Distance Learning associated with the Coronavirus Pandemic, experienced Open Session facilitators work to take this powerful tool into the online world. Here, Shiloh Greenhaw, an experienced Open Session facilitator from Seattle Country Day School, shares her perspectives.
If you are interested in becoming a trained Open Session facilitator, please connect with us.
Q&A with Shiloh Greenhaw
- 1. What was most on your mind before you decided to try a virtual Open Session? What motivated you to do it?
Having Open Sessions in the MS has been a routine – once, or twice a month and we didn’t want to let go that. We found that routines and a little bit of normalcy is important. On top of that with everything that is going on the world, what better time to provide students the opportunity to support themselves. Here encouraging words and wisdom from their own peers. That is the beauty of The Open Session… knowing you are not alone.
- 2. What possible hurdles were you concerned about? Did they end up being real after you tried it out?
We were really weren’t sure if the kids would open up, especially in this remote learning setting. For many of us, it’s a new environment and whether or not students were willing to be vulnerable to express concerns or share stories, we just didn’t know. However, if we could still keep the anonymity of it, then we were thinking it could still work. So, kids were able to fill out the “cards” via a google form and they came flooding in.
- 3. What was the most surprising, tender, or difficult moment for you while you were facilitating it? How did you decide to read which cards/when?
Two things come to mind; One was when I started reading the cards ahead of time (to group them in categories) I felt so much pain. Pain of not being in school, pain of dealing with sick family members, worry and anxiety was all over. I actually grouped the “cards” and shared them with the other 8th grade teachers, so they had an idea of how much was on their minds.
The other thing difficult thing was during The Open Session I needed to bring some moments of joy, because there was so much pain and sense of loss. I really had to time reading “cards” in a way that created some upbeat moments and laughter in between the pain. And, luckily we had some of those. And, as always end with an uplifting one (even if I had to plant one!)
- 4. What elements of The Open Session needed tweaking for this...and how did you think those went? What did you do ahead of time that set the stage for success?
Overall, I think it went really well. Before The Open Session started, I reminded the students of ways to respond – even though we didn’t have the chicklets, I screenshared those three points to reference for responses. Emotional Support (red), Clarity (yellow) and Words of Wisdom/Advice (blue) and told students that we can still abide by these ways of response and all they needed to do was raise their hand in the participation box and I’ll call on them. There were times of silence and it that was OK. I believe they needed that time to sit and reflect. I also probably aided in the thought process just a little more than I would’ve in a face to face setting, especially in a “clarification way”. “I wonder if this person is referring to….” Statements like that seemed to help some of the responses come in a little more.
- 5. What did the kids say about it? Worth their time? Weird?
A day after The Open Session, I had the students fill out a google form to provide any feedback, good or bad, about the remote Open Session, and overwhelming the students said it went great and we didn’t need to change anything. If anything, they wanted to continue to have more. I honestly believe that because we set up the routine of Open Session back at school, that is what set up the success of this session so well. I look forward to more!